Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Plato's Cave

In the book The Republic, Plato tells the story of prisoners of war that were held captive in a cave for such a long period of time, they could not remember their lives before their captivity. These men were forced to face the back of the cave wall for decades, while a fire burned behind them for illumination. The only objects that the prisoners could ever see were the cave wall, their own shadows and the shadows of the beasts guarding them. This was both terrifying and paralyzing for the men.

One day, one of the men found the courage to look back at the fire and the beast guarding them. What he found were ordinary men guarding over them. The guards had cut-outs of monsters and projected the shadows to the back of the cave where the prisoners were held. This was the easiest and most effective way for the guards to control the prisoners.

The knowing prisoner found an opportunity to escape the cave and did so as soon as he could. When the free man stepped out the cave, he could not believe his eyes. The sun, that he now remembered, was much brighter than the cave fire. He smelled the flowers, remembering their scent from his youth. The free man watched as people went about their daily lives, remembering his life before captivity.

The free man was overwhelmed with the joy of remembering his former life, his real life. The free man wanted to free his fellow prisoners as soon as he could and planned his quest. The next day at an opportune time the free man made his way back to the cave. When he found the guards away from their posts, the free man sprang into action. Running to his fellow prisoners and telling them of everything he discovered to be real, both inside and outside the cave. He told his friends of the cut-out monsters that terrified them. About the sun outside the cave that was much brighter than the fire that illuminated the cave. The free man told his friends about all the wonderful things he had discovered again in his new found freedom.

After hearing everything the free man had to say, the prisoners showed disbelief, mockery, and hatred toward the free man. They thought, how could this man know better than they did? How dare the man pretend to know more than they did.

The free man left the prisoners in the cave and walked back out into his freedom.

In today's world, we are allowed to walk anywhere we want to inside the cave, its encouraged. The cut-out monsters are projected on every wall, floor and ceiling as well. Our scary shadows come from the same place that lights our cave. TV, Radio, Internet, Newspaper etc.. Once we free ourselves from the Maya (Illusion) we can walk back outside the cave and remember who we truly are, again. The first step for the free man was to recognize the Maya. The second step was to understand who he was not. The third step was to understand who he was, to "Know Thyself."

As far as us going back into the cave to save our fellow prisoners...the Illusion is slowly fading away. Many will cling onto, "the good old days." Cling onto the projections of shadows that were on their cave walls. Others will finally leave the cave and find a sun brighter than the cave fire and a SELF greater than they could have imagined.


  1. People feel comfortable clinging. Who likes to stand on his or her own two feet, I wonder.

  2. Hi Hermster, I share your view, in our 'modern society' we're continously encouraged to look at the shadows instead of breaking our chains. Fortunately there's also an increasing number of people waking up of this dream. Here's a good video about the cave's myth

  3. Reading your story I couldn’t stop myself thinking that the shadows on the walls are just like the TVs in our living rooms. All you can see is monsters and destruction, doom and gloom.
    Great post!

  4. Thank you Buddha, your spot on understanding those shadows.

  5. Yes,this post made me realize that infact we are like those cave prisoners unaware of the fact that world is more beautiful than our imagination. Inspiring post.



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